Tonya Provost knows what a financial crisis feels like. She talks about the pressure that comes when there is nowhere to turn for money, and she knows the stress makes her disability worse. Every month, she decides what bill not to pay because her $1,400 in military benefits never covers all the expenses.
Then, there's her 14-year-old grandson to consider, and she knows the anxiety of a parent when a lack of money is going to hurt children. Such was the case on March 22 of this year when the 52-year-old disabled Army veteran couldn't pay the electric bill. The same extreme stress that comes with owing thousands or millions came down to $69.99 for Provost.
In a single day, thanks to the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Family Promise of Chattanooga and the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund, Provost got the much-needed relief she needed.
"I got help the same day I asked," said Provost, "and it was such a relief. I didn't know what I was going to do because when the child support doesn't come in, there just isn't enough money. Sometimes it's harder to stretch and rob Peter to pay Paul and make it from month to month."
Provost, an 8-year Army veteran and graduate of the old Chattanooga High School, called United Way's 2-1-1 hotline seeking help. The United Way routed the case to Family Promise, where agency representatives talked with Provost, and assessed the situation. She received the one-time donation from the Neediest Cases Fund the same day. The fund was started by Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs in 1914 and is administered by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga.
"When everything falls into line and the stars align, good things can happen," said Ruth Votava of Family Promise. "It's like working a miracle to be able to provide that kind of help. When the electricity and all the utilities are turned off, a person essentially becomes homeless."
Family Promise has used one-time donations from Neediest Cases for utility bill help for at least five clients in 2018. Like most social services agencies, Family Promise seeks to help families in crisis move to stability by reducing stays in homeless shelters, working with clients to find jobs and helping disabled clients with income support and housing.
The agency helped a single mother of three with a monthly income of $900 with $357 toward her EPB bill at a time when the Chattanooga resident had worked with the social services network to transition into new housing and new employment. A $115 gift from the Neediest Cases Fund helped a Rossville man keep his electricity on for another month after his hours were reduced at work.
Family Promise used the Neediest Cases Fund to help a disabled man with a monthly income of less than $200 with an EPB bill that had grown to $192. The client, who has lived with his mother in the same Chattanooga home since 1944, was awaiting a disability claim to be settled that will help stabilize the family.
The United Way has fielded 4,418 calls requesting electric bill assistance in 2018, according to its data, and only 33 were able to be routed to the Neediest Cases Fund. Others were serviced by other agencies, including those working in partnership with EPB. Laws and regulations prevent the municipal utility from providing direct charity, said J. Ed Marston, EPB's vice president of marketing.
EPB refers customers to several local agencies and offers its Power Share program, in which customers can add a dollar or another amount to their monthly bill to help others with a water, gas or electric bill.
"Our customers are individuals to us," said Denise Estes, a customer service technician for the EPB. "We make referrals and work with several agencies. We offer the chance to add $1 to a monthly bill, and 100 percent of that money goes to the United Way and the Neediest Cases Fund."
Marston said EPB's bad debt often is below 1 percent, which is the lowest of the major distributors across the Tennessee Valley and an indicator of the community success in helping citizens pay utility bills.
"The Neediest Cases is unique, and it fills an important gap in the community," Marston said. "It gets at everyday issues and can make a huge difference in someone's life in a huge way. [Neediest Cases] is a powerful took in our community."
Contributions to the Neediest Cases Fund will continue through December, and you can donate using the coupon accompanying this story or online at timesfreepress.com/neediestcases. In addition, at the website you can read about fund cases from this year and 2017.
Contact Davis Lundy at firstname.lastname@example.org.